Q&A: Can You Hear Me Now?

Q Our downstairs neighbor’s children always have the TV turned to an extremely loud volume. Our condo  building is older and everything can be heard from below. We have tried to  resolve the issue peacefully and spoke to them to turn it down, which they  always did but it still continues. Our bylaws don’t really specify any rules about noise except that it has to be “reasonable” and cannot occur between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. The noise is outside of those hours  but it is truly disruptive to us. We are not sure what to do next. Please  advise.  

 —Deaf Ears in Dedham  

A “There are several approaches to a noise problem like the one that you report,” says attorney Alan Lipkind, a partner at the law firm of Burns & Levinson LLP in Boston, MA. “Contacting the neighbor directly to communicate your concerns was absolutely the  correct initial approach. Prompt communication of a noise concern allows  neighbors to modify their behavior while minimizing harm to the relationship  between neighbors. In addition to keeping the volume of the television low,  there is the possibility that moving the TV to a different room might eliminate  the problem. A more costly but possibly more effective solution could be the  installation of insulation in the ceiling between the two units to lessen the  transmission of sound. Before installing insulation, you likely would need  permission from the condominium association or organization of unit owners, as  the space between your floor and your neighbor’s ceiling is likely common area and not part of a unit. The bottom line is that  prompt and direct communication between unit owners involved in a dispute  enhances the possibility of reaching a solution that satisfies all parties. It  also avoids the costs and unpleasantness that may result from delay and the  pursuit of more formal efforts.  

 “You should be aware that in many jurisdictions, there is a legal doctrine called  private nuisance, which means that one may not use his or her property in a way  which unreasonably impacts property owned by another. The conduct that you are  describing may very well constitute a private nuisance. The typical remedy for  a private nuisance is an abatement of the nuisance, i.e., a court order barring  the offensive behavior in the future. I do not, however, recommend that you  proceed to court yet. Many courts are reluctant to get involved in a dispute of  this nature unless one can demonstrate that the conduct at issue is truly  unreasonable and that one has done everything possible to attempt to resolve  the issue. Accordingly, the next step that you should consider is a letter from  you or an attorney to your neighbors. This will let your neighbors know how  serious this matter is to you. It will also document the problematic conduct  and your attempt to reasonably resolve the problem. Hopefully that will take  care of the issue. If not, then you should consider consulting legal counsel  regarding whether to pursue legal action.  

 “A second potential source of relief for your situation would be through the  organization of unit owners of your condominium. If the conduct at issue  violates the master deed, bylaws or rules and regulations, the organization of  unit owners likely has the power to enforce compliance with those documents.  The organization of unit owners may have a variety of options open to it from a  simple request to the offending owner to the imposition of fines, to seeking an  injunction to stop the offensive behavior. Accordingly, if your downstairs  neighbor is violating the governing documents of the condominium, you should  consider asking the organization of unit owners to enforce those condominium  documents.  

 “A third source of relief for you may be a municipal noise ordinance in your  municipality. If there is such an ordinance that is applicable, the local code  enforcement official may be of assistance. Contact your local code enforcement  official to learn more.”